Herb Montgomery | May 13, 2022
To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.
“You can’t love another” without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it . . . When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.”
Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:
“When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:31-35)
After Judas leaves the room, Jesus begins to speak about glorification and love.
The theme of glorifying God and being glorified in and by God is rhetoric repeated through and unique to John’s version of the Jesus story. John defines the closing scenes of Jesus’ life, his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, as how God and Jesus are glorified.
Another difference between John’s version and the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) is that John shifts Jesus message from love of neighbor and love of our enemies to love specifically among Jesus’s followers. The author of John, writing this late gospel, paints this shift as a “new teaching.”
These varying objects of love in the canonical gospels—neighbor, enemies, and Jesus’ disciples—point to the tension of love across three concentric circles. The inner circle is Jesus’ disciples. The next circle is those Jesus’ disciples share society with, whether disciples of Jesus themselves or not. And the outer circle includes those who are those outside the disciples’ society or the community in which we do life together. “Enemy” in this context does not necessarily mean those who do us harm; it may simply mean those who are outside the circle we draw around whomever we define as “us.”
In our time, I don’t think it’s helpful to define others as “enemies.” We can be honest about labeling choices or actions as hurtful or not without naming the people choosing them as “enemies.” And rather than speaking of “loving our enemies,” we can speak of loving those who choose to harm us. This kind of love, too, needs careful defining and explanation to be genuinely life giving and not a tool to sustain harm.
But our reading this week focuses on love amongst fellow Jesus followers. By that love, Jesus says, others would know that Jesus’ followers were the disciples of Jesus. In other words, love was to be the primary distinguishing characteristic others could use to know that we are endeavoring to follow the moral philosophy of that Jewish prophet of the poor from Galilee. That marker is not a bumper sticker, nor what station our radios are tuned to. It’s not what church denomination we choose or voting Republican (I do live in West Virginia).
The marker is not even whether we choose live inside or outside of Christianity’s faith claims. What signals to others that our attempts to follow Jesus are genuine is whether we live by an ethic of love. This is not to say that all who endorse an ethic of love as Jesus followers but that you can’t be a Jesus follower without embracing an ethic of love.
Regardless of which object of love a particular version of the Jesus story focuses on (whether neighbor, enemies, or our own community), it is important to define what that love looks like. How we define love matters: including what we define love to be and what we define love as not. Genuine love does no harm.
Love and Justice
To paraphrase the great Dr. Emilie M. Townes, when we start with love, justice is isn’t very far behind. Love expresses itself in distributive justice for all. It includes the desire to make sure the objects of our love have what they need to thrive. When we love, in each area of our lives, we desire that resources are shared so everyone’s needs are met and no one has too much while others have too little. When disparities exist between those whose needs are unmet and those who have more than they could possibly need, all parties are harmed. They don’t experience the same level of harm mind you, or even the same kind of harm, but they experience harm nonetheless.
This principle is at the heart of the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition in which the Jesus we encounter in the gospels stands:
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2)
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope. (Isaiah 42:3-4)
This is what the Most High says to you, house of David:
“Administer justice every morning;
rescue from the hand of the oppressor
the one who has been robbed” (Jeremiah 21:12)
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak . . . I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:16)
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)
In love a throne will be established . . . one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Isaiah 16:5)
“Maintain love and justice.” (Hosea 12:6)
Love without justice is hypocrisy. To read Jesus’ words of love as only sentimental, and not as including a call to social justice is to take Jesus out of his Jewish context and transform him into something else for another purpose. Jesus was a preacher of the kind of love that expresses itself in justice for the oppressed, marginalized, excluded, and downtrodden.
This is why Jesus scholars such as the late Marcus Borg and his co-author John Dominic Crossan made such bold statements such as, “The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.” (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, Kindle location 44.)
This is what I think of when I hear Jesus’ admonition us to love one another.
You can’t love another without desiring that those whom you love have what they need to thrive, and also doing what is in your power for them to have it.
All of this leads me to some questions about the intrinsic relationship between love and justice that those of us who are Jesus followers and who share my social location in our society need to allow ourselves to be confronted by.
Are we as White Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love Black people and people of color?
Are we as male Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for women?
Are we as straight Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisxexual, and/or pansexual?
Are we as cisgender Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for transgender people?
Are we as educated Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who are less educated?
Are we as middle-class Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for the poor?
Are we as U.S. citizen Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for refugees, migrants, and the undocumented?
Are we as settler-colonial Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for indigenous populations and communities?
Are we as North American Jesus followers practicing an ethic of love for those who live in the Global South?
Whom does this list of questions make you think of this week?
When we start to really consider what love means, then if we are honest we must begin to perceive love is not only personal, but also social, political, economic, religious, and even global.
Whom do you think of when you hear Jesus’ words in John?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.
2. How does loving others translate into societal justice for you? Share with your group
3. What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?
Thanks for checking in with us, today.
Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.
I love each of you dearly,
I’ll see you next week
Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.
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